5 Things We Learned From Starting A Youth-Led Social Impact Initiative

Updated: Oct 16, 2018

By Asanga Seneviratne (Co-Founder of Project Lantern)


Avocado fries seemed like a peculiar combination of an Australian brunch craze and twist on the time-honoured potato fries. I can’t tell you how it tastes but can guarantee that the flyer

promoting it provided a fantastic makeshift notepad to scribble down the initial foundations of what would become Project Lantern. I would never have thought that over burgers in the middle of SWOTVAC would be the starting place for a small organisation dedicated to engaging, enabling and supporting young people in creating real social change. Buzzword filled mission statements aside, turning an emotional conversation about my co-founder’s upbringing into a number of growing projects has taught us a lot about transforming ideas into action.


Whilst we're still developing and learning every day, we wanted to share some of the key

lessons we've picked up over our journey and hope they are valuable in pursuing your own

social change initiative.


1. Understand The Landscape


There are countless moments when we were hit with great ideas and it is easy to get caught up in the excitement and charge full steam ahead in getting an idea off the ground. However, there is so much that can be gained from taking a moment to understand the landscape of the problem that you are trying to address and the individuals and organisations that are already working towards developing a solution both locally and globally.


I can guarantee you that there will be at least one person working towards solving the problem you are focusing on. Upon hearing my co-founder’s story of growing up with much less than I had my immediate reaction was to setup a mentoring program for students from disadvantaged communities. In response, he raised that there was already a great program doing just that, but they were short of volunteers for their programs. Having seen the disconnect between friends at high school and university that wanted to make an impact with their time and skills but didn't know how, the idea of the opportunity platform that would connect them with organisations in need of support was born. It would have been easy to be caught up in the excitement and rush into building the platform itself but there was much to be gained from slowing down and exploring what was already out there.


Through our initial research we found a number of platforms that existed aiming to achieve

something very similar to ourselves including an Australian initiative called YO-LID (Youth

Opportunities in Leadership, Innovation and Development). It turned out I knew one of the

co-founders through my work with the Foundation for Young Australians and after a few

incredibly insightful discussions she was gracious enough to give us the go-ahead to take over and re-brand the platform. This was an invaluable boost in launching the platform giving us an initial audience of over 2000 young people across Australia and the world. If we hadn’t been actively seeking to understand the landscape of the issue we are trying to address, we would have never had this amazing kickstart.


A great quote that stays with me and I think sums this concept well was from a discussion with Ndidi Nwuneli, founder of LEAP Africa. She said, “it is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit”. When talking about social problems in particular it’s easy to get clouded by the ego of starting our own project but there is so much to be had in collaborating with others first. This is something we continue to focus on today with a collaborate first attitude for everything we do.


2. Spread Your Mission & Get Some Help


Even if you think you have the best idea in the world, tell people about it that care or who might be interested. There’s no point keeping things close to your chest because you think someone might steal the idea - it’s nigh on impossible that anyone is going to take your idea and run away replicating it. Talking to people about your idea is the best way to get feedback and develop it better, especially in the social change space.


Advice from other podcasters was instrumental in reminding us that we didn’t need fancy

recording equipment or a recording studio to get started which was the catalyst for kicking off Season 1 of the podcast. It is also a great way to get some help with resources or individuals that people suggest connecting with. Particularly given that we are working on social causes, it is important to remember that we are all working on a social problem and a collective effort is going to lead to a more robust solution for those we are trying to help.


3. Know Your Purpose & Write It Down


As your idea continues to evolve it’s bound to go through many iterations, the most important thing to making sure you don’t get lost is knowing your purpose both on a personal level and as a wider organisation. There will be moments where you will need to make some tough decisions or unsure in what way to proceed. Often in these moments, it is where I and the broader team would refer back to our underlying purpose which would always give us clarity and understanding of what to do next. For example, midway through Season 1 of the podcast we had the opportunity to interview some high-profile older guests but turned down the opportunity. It was a tough decision to knock back what would of have been stellar reach in the short-term but we came back to our initial purpose with the podcast. Our goal was to showcase young people leading change who often did not have the platform that their older and more established counterparts had. In this situation, referring back to our purpose, helped justify the tough decision of forgoing some enormous short-term reach in favour to staying true to our own selling point.


4.​ Seek Support & Be Loyal To Your Early Supporters


Don’t be shy in reaching out to people and organisations to support your idea. Most importantly make sure that you go above and beyond in giving back to your early supporters. Those first few individuals or organisations that have your back will mean the world to you and be crucial in building a foundation for your ongoing success.


It’s hard to get those early supporters so make sure they feel valued and listen to their early

feedback since that will be instrumental informing how your initiative develops. For us, knowing that there were at least a handful of people who were listening to every one of our episodes when we started and getting something out of it was motivation enough to carry us through to the end of Season 1.


5. Embrace Rejection


Whilst this may an age-old adage that you need to ‘learn and grow from your mistakes’, when you’re starting a new initiative the most important thing to remember is to be able take rejection head on because there’s no doubt you’re going to face it. Despite how committed you may be to your own cause and solving the problem at hand, there will be countless instances where you will hear the word ‘thank you but no thanks’, never get replies to your emails and get your applications get knocked back.


To recount the number of times that this has happened to us would easily fill a number of pages of this publication. This is something that is bound to happen but for every rejection make sure to seek feedback and remind yourself of your purpose and why you set out to do what you did. We promise if you keep learning, stay true to your purpose and committed to the cause, you will see the fruit of your work eventually and see it grow.


If you have any advice of your own or want any support in pursuing your own social change

initiative, feel free to get in touch anytime at asanga@projectlantern.com.au – we’re more than happy to help!


Note: This article was written for and originally published in the Melbourne Microfinacne Intiative's 2018 Impact Review which you can read in full here.

Project Lantern

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

— Margaret Mead

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